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Woe, Canada
Michael Farber
January 20, 2003
Can the floundering teams in the Great White North Stay afloat?
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January 20, 2003

Woe, Canada

Can the floundering teams in the Great White North Stay afloat?

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The Ottawa Senators, who couldn't meet their biweekly payroll two weeks ago despite team salaries that total a relatively modest $30 million, filed for bankruptcy protection last Thursday. Rod Bryden, the team's majority owner, owes various creditors, including the NHL, $92 million. He's looking for a U.S.-based partner who will buy into the team and keep it in Canada's capital, an unlikely scenario considering recent history. In 1995 the financially strapped Quebec Nordiques relocated to Denver, and one year later the Winnipeg Jets moved to Phoenix. In the wintry land of the 64-cent dollar, here is a ranking of the long-term viability (from least to most) of the NHL's six remaining Canadian franchises.

1. Senators
Despite putting an elite team on the ice (including Marian Hossa, below), Bryden has grumbled about the lack of corporate support. An exit from Ottawa after this season would not be surprising.

2. Calgary Flames
The franchise has strong corporate support and a solid 12,400-season-ticket base, but some in the aging ownership group will be looking to sell their shares in the coming years.

3. Edmonton Oilers
To survive long-term, this ownership group needs a systemic change in the salary structure when the CBA expires after the 2003-04 season.

4. Vancouver Canucks
This young, exciting, well-run team should be safe unless deep-pocketed, Seattle-based owner John McCaw loses interest and sells.

5. Montreal Canadiens
Colorado-based owner George Gillett leveraged himself to acquire the team and arena at a bargain price ($184 million), but an NHL without this storied club is unthinkable.

6. Toronto Maple Leafs
This powerful franchise, an anomaly in the Canadian context, will be around as long as there is hockey.